Timmmaaaaay's Top 10 of 2015

I had originally planned to get this list posted earlier in the month, but as you can tell, that didn't happen.  It's funny how spending the better part of two days shoveling snow sucks the motivation to do anything else right out of you.  There are still a handful of films that have been nominated for this year's Academy Awards that I would like to see, but seeing as though we've already made it to the last day of January, I figure I shouldn't delay my annual Top 10 list any longer!

I've compiled such a list four of the past five years, so those of you familiar with the blog may remember the stipulations I use when putting this list together, but for those who are not, here are a couple of quick points before we get started:
  1. The list is pulled only from the movies released in 2015 that I actually saw (a second list comprised of the films from 2015 that I would still like to see appears after my Top 10).
  2. These are the films that I enjoyed or appreciated the most when I saw them, not necessarily the best based on their award winning potential (although that may be a happy coincidence in some cases).
  3. All of these films have had a full review posted here on the blog. If you have more interest in a particular film, click on the movie title and follow the link to my previously posted review.
As seems to always happen, there were a few films that I wasn't able to see that one could probably make an argument for inclusion on this list. At this point, most all of those have come to the Roanoke area already and I either missed them or have not yet had the opportunity to check them out.  With a little luck, I'll be able to catch those one way or another before this year's Academy Awards at the end of February.  I always love to hear what other people felt were the best/most enjoyable films of the year so feel free to chime in!  Anyway, let's get to it!  I present to you My Top 10 Films of 2015:

Honorable Mention (alphabetical order): Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, Inside Out, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Pitch Perfect 2, Spectre, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton

10) Sicario - This film about the war on drugs was one of the most intense films that I saw this year.  The way director Denis Villeneuve allowed the story to unfold leaves the viewer in the same position as Emily Blunt's Agent Macer: in the dark as to what is actually going on.  Top of the line performances from Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, action, and a nice twist vault Sicario into my Top 10.

9) Predestination - Based on Robert A. Heinlein's short story "All You Zombies", Predestination is one of the best time-travel-centric films in recent memory.  There's a very limited cast, but it shines thanks to the strength of Sarah Snook's and Ethan Hawke's performances.  Time travel can be difficult to follow at times, but that's not the case with Predestination, although a second viewing certainly doesn't hurt. This film is neck and neck with the next entry as the most thought-provoking films from the past year.

8) Ex Machina - Right there at the top with Predestination as far as thought-provacability (is that even a word? spell check is telling me no) is concerned, Ex Machina is a wonderful sci-fi flick about an eccentric tech genious' efforts to achieve true artificial intelligence.  Ex Machina also utilizes an extremely limited cast.  After the first couple of scenes it relies solely on the interactions between Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ava (Alicia Vikander).  One may think that that would limit the film, but it is actually one of its strengths as the feeling of seclusion and secrecy just adds to the intensity of Ex Machina's story.  Vikander went on to receive an Oscar nomination for her role in The Danish Girl (which I have yet to see), but this performance shows that her nomination was no fluke.

7) Bridge of Spies - On paper, a collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks seems like a no brainer.  Bridge of Spies is proof of that pairing's excellence.  This film is based on actual events revolving around the Cold War negotiation to exchange spies/suspected spies.  Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, an insurance settlement lawyer who inexplicably finds himself negotiating for not one, not two, but three lives and Mark Rylance turns in one of the best supporting performances of the year (he received an Oscar nomination for the role) as Rudolf Abel, the Russian spy whose defense sucks Donovan into the course of events.

6) Mad Max: Fury Road - Easily the most action-packed film of the year, and probably one of the most action-packed films you'll ever see.  Mad Max mastermind George Miller wastes no time setting up the stakes and literally charging full steam ahead.  Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy lend big names to the film, but the all out, high octane action is the true star of Fury Road.  Action that is only made more impressive by the fact that the majority of the stunts were achieved practically as opposed to using special effects.

5) The Martian - My Top 10 list is pretty sci-fi heavy this year, but even though it took me longer than I had hoped to get this one in, The Martian was definitely one of the best.  A great mix of drama, suspense, and humor, it is probably Matt Damon's best performance since his breakout in 1997's Good Will Hunting.  Based on Andy Weir's best selling novel of the same name, this film incorporates the best kind of science fiction (in my opinion), that which may not yet exist, but doesn't feel like the possibility is all that far off.

4) The Hateful Eight - A 'whodunit' that plays out in a remote haberdashery in Wyoming in the middle of a blizzard, Quentin Tarantino's eighth feature length film isn't quite as intense as some of his earlier films, but implements his signature dialogue with splashes of violence.  In my mind, Tarantino limiting himself and his cast to virtually a single set shows off the strength of their performances as well as his screenplay, which surprisingly didn't nab an Oscar nomination this year.  Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Walton Goggins rise to the top in a film that boasts a pretty impressive cast.

3) Creed - When I first heard that they were making a follow up Rocky film focusing on the son of Apollo Creed, I was admittedly a little apprehensive.  The Rocky franchise has had its ups and downs, and had (I thought) ended relatively well with 2006's Rocky Balboa.  I thought that Sylvester Stallone may be going to the well one time too many.  Then I learned that Creed was actually the brainchild of writer/director Ryan Coogler and that he had approached Stallone with the idea of revitalizing the franchise by taking it in a new direction.  Michael B. Jordan and Stallone both give spectacular performances (Stallone received an Oscar nomination for once again reprising his role as Rocky Balboa) that results in an excellent, inspiring, heartfelt (and at times heart-wrenching) film that caught me completely by surprise.  Not only does Creed continue the long running Rocky franchise (this is the seventh film), but it introduces a new protagonist that will allow for future installments.  Best of all, it feels like a natural progression for the franchise, not as though it were forced or as if it were just a money grab.

2) The Revenant - Admittedly falling in the 'not for everyone' category, The Revenant is an excellent story of survival and revenge.  I have always thoroughly enjoyed period pieces, and while this story from the wild frontier isn't what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of period pieces, that is exactly what it is.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy turn in stellar performances and Alejandro G. Iñárritu's direction is just as stunning and beautiful as ever.  Artistically, this is the most impressive film I saw in 2015.  The subject matter may not appeal to some, but The Revenant is an absolute must see for anyone who is a fan of film in general.  DiCaprio and Iñárritu are likely front runners in their respective categories at this year's Academy Awards.

1) Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - I'm not sure that I can say much about The Force Awakens than I did in my original review.  I absolutely loved this film.  It made me feel like a kid again, basking in the awe and wonder of a story from 'a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away'.  Director J.J. Abrams introduces a new generation of characters that are intriguing, endearing and appear as though they'll be able to carry the weight of the franchise moving forward.  He implemented fan favorites from the past to help set up the future, and while some of the plot points are similar to those from the original trilogy, Episode VII differs enough to stand on its own.  He delivered a film that lived up to and exceeded the immense global expectations for the return of the franchise to the big screen.  He also brilliantly (and somewhat frustratingly) ended this chapter in a spot that leaves us all begging for more.  Let the countdown to December of 2017 begin!

Films from 2015 that I'd still like to see (listed alphabetically):
  • Big Short, The
  • Carol
  • Danish Girl, The
  • Joy
  • Room
  • Spotlight
  • Trumbo

What were your favorites from this past year?  Are there any that you missed that you are still particularly looking forward to?


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